It's just not cricket: Botham Jnr sells his soul to rugby

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The Independent Online
The name is the same, but not the game. Liam Botham may be a chip off the old block but he is still his own man. There was no way that he could have emulated the feats of his father, former England Test cricket all-rounder Ian Botham, who singlehandedly, and in one bound, won the Ashes when Liam was just four years old, in 1981.

Now, 15 years on, Liam has decided on a professional sporting career - in rugby. He could have carried on playing cricket with Hampshire, but yesterday Liam, a former Rossall School pupil who plays at outside centre, signed a three-year contract with Courage First Division club West Hartlepool.

"While it wasn't an easy decision to make," said Liam, 6ft 1in and almost 14 stone. "I've discussed the position, not only with my father, who has never pushed me to follow either route, but also with professional advisers. I've always had a slight preference for rugby."

Mark Ring, West's director of rugby and a former Wales international, said: "It is virtually impossible to combine summer and winter sports at a professional level these days. Liam has had a taste of cricket at a professional level and now has the challenge ahead of professional rugby at a national level. I think he has a great future."

Liam appears to be blessed with the same team of script writers as his father. On his debut for Hampshire against Middlesex last season, Botham Junior claimed five wickets for 67 runs, including the scalp of former England captain Mike Gatting. It does not stop there. Last October, when he made his senior debut for West Hartlepool he scored a try against Watsonians.

Rugby certainly looks a likelier bet for the Legend's son. There is a hard core of realism running through the youngster. He confided recently: "I can never win at cricket having this name. If I do well people will say I should do. If I do badly they would say I was only in the side because of whose son I am." But there was a wistfulness when he told the interviewer: "... I wish I could be called plain Liam Bloggs."

Somehow it seems improbable that a Botham could be plain anything. Quite rightly he is being pragmatic and playing to his strengths. And Bloggs or Botham, Liam could well make his name in rugby.

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